Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Matza: Mitzva and Theme of All of Pesach


Chazal (M'chilta quoted by Rashi, Bo 12:15) teach us that although the Torah states: "You shall eat matzos for seven days" (Bo 12:15, Emor 23:6), the obligatory commandment to eat matza only applies on the first night of Pesach, the Seider night. This is based on another pasuk: "In the evening (after the fourteenth of Nissan), you shall eat matzos" (Bo 12:18). On a simple plane, according to this interpretation, the first verse, stating we should eat matza for seven days, is not commanding us to eat matza for seven days, but rather to eat matza instead of chametz for the rest of Pesach, but we can also choose not to eat any "bread-like" foods at all (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 475:32).

The Gaon of Vilna, R. Eliyahu, (Ma'aseh Rav 185) famously maintains that this d'rasha does not negate the mitzva of eating matza on the other days of Pesach entirely. Rather, whereas on the first night, the mitzva is chiyuvis, obligatory, on the other nights, it is kiyumis, optional. In the Seifer Achilas Matzos B'Yisrael by Rav Shalom Yehuda Gross shlita, many other views both in Rishonim and Acharonim are presented agreeing with this approach of the Gra. Among them are: the view of the Geonim that t'fillin are not worn on Chol HaMo'eid Pesach since t'fillin are an os (a sign), and Pesach already has an os, the eating of matza. This strongly implies that the eating of matza even the rest of Pesach is a mitzvah act and is consequently considered an os.  Even the Rosh who disagrees and maintains that t'fillin are worn on Chol HaMo'eid, does not necessarily reject this particular premise.[1] The Aruch HaShulchan (475) also agrees with the view of the Vilna Gaon. (See the above Seifer for many other supporters of this view.)[2]


What is unique about the matza which - unlike the other mitzvos of the Seider night - permeates the entire Yom Tov of Pesach?

Many commentaries on the Haggada note that matza is the only food at the Seider which incorporates within it both symbolism of slavery[3] and freedom. On the one hand, we introduce the Seider with: "This is the bread of poverty (or, of affliction) which our ancestors ate in Egypt." On the other hand, we conclude the first part of the Seider with: "Why do we eat this matza? Because their dough did not have a chance to rise when they left Egypt…"[4] Perhaps this duality might also explain why the mitzva of matza applies throughout Pesach. Throughout this central holiday, we commemorate, relive and attempt to incorporate into our lives the rest of the year the enormous lessons to be gleaned from both the servitude in Egypt[5] and the subsequent freedom forming our nation and preparing us to receive the Torah at Sinai.

On another level,[6] R Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) (Derech Hashem 4:8) and Maharal (G'vuros Hashem 36,51,60) both note that the eating of matza - which through its constitution and its being baked quickly - not only commemorates the haste with which we left Egypt, but also prepared us spiritually for that Exodus and the subsequent receiving of the Torah. In the words of Ramchal:

The concept of chametz and matza is that until the Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people were mixed into the other nations, a nation among another nation. Through their Exodus, they were redeemed and separated.  Until that time, the bodies of mankind were clouded with (spiritual) darkness and defilement which was very prominent in them. At the point of the Exodus, the Jewish people were separated. As a result, their bodies were fit to become purified and prepared for [a life of] Torah and Divine Service. Because of this, they were commanded to eliminate chametz and to eat matza.  [Regular] bread designed for man was appropriate for man's necessary state. Leaven, which is natural in bread, since it is easily digestible and of good taste, is also in accordance with that which is appropriate for man, for it is necessary that the Evil Inclination be within him and have a propensity for physicality.[7] However, for a defined period of time, Israel was required to desist from chametz and be sustained through matza, to lessen within themselves the power of the Evil Inclination and the propensity toward physicality, and they thus strengthened within themselves the connection toward spirituality.  To always be sustained in such a manner is impossible for this is not what is desired in ‘Olam HaZeh, This World.[8]  But during the appropriate days, it is fit that they should keep this concept, for through this they will remain on the level which is appropriate for them.  This is the main theme of "Chag HaMatzos."

Maharal gives several additional approaches why matza, devoid of any other flavor or fluff (the leavening), is a food uniquely suited to allow the Jewish people to attach to Hashem and to be redeemed in a supernatural manner. It is not dependent on time, meaning no specific time is required to make it as it need not rise, just as G-d is not dependent on time Who redeemed them Himself. It is unattached to anything else; hence, it is "poor man's bread" - unlike the wealthy who are "attached" to their assets - symbolizing freedom from all other influences. It is the ultimate of simplicity, symbolizing the Upper World, the World through which the redemption supernaturally took place, unencumbered by the misleading "razzle-dazzle" of This World, a necessary component to provide motivation for Divine Service, but unnecessary in the World of Divine Bliss.[9]

The Zohar asks why matza is not eaten the whole year. This question is readily understandable in light of all of the spiritual benefits of matza. The Zohar answers that once one is sanctified and healed with "the food of healing" once, he no longer needs it. Tiferes Shlomo (by R. Shlomo of Radomsk) explains based on this concept, the following passage: "Matzos should be eaten for seven days, and chametz should not be seen… in all of your boundaries" (Bo 13:7). This can be homiletically read as: as a result of your eating matza for the seven days of Pesach, you will merit that chametz, symbolic of the Yeitzer HaRa, will not be attractive to you the rest of year.[10]

In the merit of fulfilling the mitzva of matza the entire Pesach, may Hashem grant that we absorb all of its spiritual messages throughout the year and see the final redemption speedily.

[1] Just as he surely does not reject the premise that lulav and sukka are mitzvos for the entire Sukkos - based on which the Geonim maintain that we do not put on t'fillin on Chol HaMo'eid Sukkos since they are an os.

{2] One ramification of these views is that one should have kavana when eating matza even during the rest of Pesach to fulfill a mitzva.

[3] Although see Maharal quoted below who strongly disputes this notion.

[4] See It's All One Matza by Mori v'Rabi Rav Hershel Schachter shlita on for a further elaboration of this theme.

[5] One lesson is based on the statement of our Sages (Megila 14a): "'Hallelu ‘avdei Hashem' - v'lo avdei Par'o" - "'Praise O you servants of G-d' - and not the servants of Pharaoh!" The slavery in Egypt taught Klal Yisrael how to be "slaves", that is, to be fully committed day and night to the service of someone or something. This ability, while of little value when for the purpose of serving man, is of infinite value, reflecting our true seves, when utilized to attach ourselves to the Source of All.

[6] This section of this article is based on a D'var Torah delivered orally by Rav Gedalya Meir Hochberg shlita on Shabbos HaGadol at Beis Midrash Nachal Nachshon and printed in Kor'ei Oneg (Alon 5) of Kehilas Bnei HaYeshivos - Mishkenos Ya'akov.

[7] See B'rachos (17a) where the Yeitzer HaRa is compared to leaven.

[8] See VaYeishev and Chanuka: A Different Outlook on the World for an elaboration on the theme of channeling the Evil Inclination for good purposes.

[9] Based on Rav Hochberg's interpretation of the words of Maharal.

[10] Quoted in Seifer Achilas Matzos B'Yisrael. See there for many other spiritual benefits of eating matza.

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